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Knicks 91, Hawks 89: “That’s a lot of length”

The New York Knoxerbockers are undefeated, neva lost.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The David Fizdale Era has officially begun and it looks quite promising. And I know, it’s only a Summer League game. We shouldn’t be reading too much into Summer League as they are just glorified scrimmages where a handful of young NBA talent and a bunch of non-NBA talent all mix together to play not-so-good basketball. There isn’t much that can be learned from these games; there isn’t, if any, evidence to suggest the statistical significance of Summer League play as a predictor to play during the NBA regular season. With that said, there are always those “eye-test players” where you watch them play and go, “yeah, that guy has it.” Think Porzingis dominating Jahlil Okafor in that one Summer League game.

But before we get into that, what exactly happened in last night’s game? Despite there being a number of different runs and double-digit point margins, the KnicksHawks game came down to the wire. Both team played the guys that are more than likely going to either play key minutes and roles on their respective NBA team or G-League affiliate. There were no Michael Gbinije or Alpha Kaba sightings last night.

Despite the 30-point, eight-rebound performance by John Collins and the 21-point, 11-assist performance by Trae Young, New York overall played sound defense, which helped them win the game. Outside of Collins — 54.5 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from behind the arc — Young shot 33.3 percent from both the field and three while the Hawks shot 38.1 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. New York also forced 16 turnovers and just edged Atlanta on the defensive boards too.

Of the Knicks players that actually matter for the franchise’s future, Kevin Knox — aka Knox-turn’al, aka Nasty Knox — in fact looked nasty, but in a good way. The rookie had 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and looked athletic and confident. Knox wasn’t efficient at all, shooting 40 percent from the field, 14.3 percent from three, and 62.5 percent from the line (got there four times, though); however, the majority of this threes were good looks that simply did not fall. Knox caught the attention of many folks throughout Twitter, including Bill Simmons, and you rarely ever hear or read Knicks compliments from the Boston Sports Guy. Let’s see if Knox continues to shine through the rest of Summer League.

New York’s second-round pick Mitchell Robinson also looked impressive given that he hasn’t played organized basketball in roughly over a year. Robinson’s raw talent and athleticism jumped off the screen immediately and clearly. He had nine points, eight rebounds, four blocks, and defensive versatility in this game. The aggressiveness on defense, jumping up for those rebounds, and rolling hard to the rim were all positive signs that this guy has all the raw ability to be a legitimate steal of this draft. With that said, Robinson also had six fouls and looked lost on both ends of the floor. Both, of course, are understandable given the circumstances. When scouts and draft evaluators said he was an elite high school prospect, you easily saw why.

When you look at Damyean Dotson’s counting stats, it looked like he had a decent game: 14 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. He also shot 33.3 percent from the floor, 37.5 percent from behind the arc, and took a number of terrible shots. Dotson appears to still be aggressive on defense, which is a plus, and he flashed more playmaking ability in this game than we saw last season. But dribbling appears to be still a weakness in Dotson’s game. He needs to play the role of 3-and-D player who can attack closeouts in the NBA, not some sort of secondary ball-handlers.

Alonzo Trier apparently was playing out of position in last night’s game. He wasn’t a lead guard for Arizona, but was asked to bring the ball up and initiate the offense. Trier brought the ball up, and that was about it. He shot 41.7 percent from the field and missed all three of this three-point attempts. Trier does appear to have a nifty midrange game off the bounce, which does translate in the NBA. He was aggressive looking for his shot (14 FGA and got to the line three times) and somehow registered four assists (I swore he had zero given how he was playing). Overall, I wasn’t impressed with Trier’s first Summer League game. I think he needs to follow the Dotson model I stated previously if he wants to be an NBA. Working on his lead ball-handling skills in these games also isn’t the end of the world. Just needs to be better with his decision-making.

I saved Frank Ntilikina for last because he’s apparently such a polarizing player amongst those who follow the Knicks. French Sinatra posted a typical Frankie stat-line: five points, five assists, three rebounds, two steals, and 28.6 percent from the field on only seven shot attempts. This is rather discouraging given that he is a second-year player playing against lesser talent in Summer League. Ntilikina played his typical borderline-elite defense as he just bothered Trae Young all game, giving him no room to breathe, read passing lanes well, and executed switches correctly. It was the offense that was worrisome.

The French Prince made the same bone-headed passes he made last year that led to turnovers and transition opportunities. He rarely attacked Trae Young, and when he finally did, there was late in the fourth quarter. I should note that aggressive Frank did manage to get a nifty assist to Mitchell for an easy dunk and an And-1 on a nice spin move.

Though disappointing, we do need to keep in mind that this is Summer League and that Ntilikina’s offense is truly a project — something we all knew going into last year’s draft. Let’s see if he bounces back today and is more aggressive. And if he doesn’t, let’s see how he plays through the first quarter of the regular season. If stagnation continues with Ntilikina during the regular season, then we can then begin evaluating the level of concern. I simply don’t see the need to crush French Sinatra or label him a bust after one Summer League game.

To end on a more positive note, here is David Fizdale after the game praising Knox and Mitchell. There are some good quotes in there.